Adoption: Compassion, Empathy and the Starfish Story

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Adoption is part of my life. It has been a source of joy and a source of frustration.  It has been a  rollercoaster ride full of highs and lows and “oh shit” moments that has shaped me in to the person I am. Adoption has done so much more for me beyond adding people to my dinner table.  It has taught me empathy, tolerance, acceptance and compassion. Have you ever heard of the Starfish Story?

Adoption: Compassion, Empathy and the Starfish Story

The Starfish Story, by Loren Eisley*

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die.”

“Son,” the man said, “don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…”I made a difference for that one.”

*Reproduced with permission

Aoption and the starfish story|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals
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I am not in the “save a child” camp when it comes to adoption.  My husband and I adopted two children from China because we wanted to be parents.  Our adoption motives were selfish. Through our two adoptions we met a lot of different people with a lot of different motives for adopting, with a lot of different adoption stories.  This experience taught me to celebrate commonalities instead of leaping to point out differences.

Acceptance and empathy breed compassion. Compassion breeds understanding.  Understanding fosters peace.

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The two children asleep in the room down the hall from where I sit know a vastly different life because someone on the other side of the world said “I can.” 

I am a much more compassionate, empathetic and tolerant human because of the rocky road my family traveled to bring these children in to our fold.

We can all make a difference. I've made a difference in the lives of my children. And they have made a difference for me.



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  1. What a beautiful post! I can’t agree with you more. My life has been also changed for the better by a little boy from Yuncheng City. Happy Lunar New Year to your family!

  2. I admire how you differentiate that you didn’t choose to adopt to be compassionate but that the process taught you what compassion means to your family. Pretty incredible.

  3. Love your ending Jill – compassionate because your life has been touched by adoption. Nice that I sort of had the back story since I just read your Our Land post this week. Beautiful. And thank you for sharing that starfish story, that will be easy to retell. Since I’m on a compassion high today it will make for a great story to tell my son at bedtime.

  4. I am truly just humbled but what you learned from adopting and how it did make you that much more compassionate. Thank you for sharing that here today and very much love the overall message.

  5. I’m so glad I came across your blog on the #1000speak compassion link-up. I’m an adopted Mum in her 40’s with two kids from China. I love your perspective and like you I’m not in the ‘save a child’ camp of adoption – we adopted because we wanted to be parents too. I like to think adoption has helped me be more compassionate, as has parenting and the experience of life – the older I get the more I realise that compassion is what life is about, although of course, I’m a work in progress on that front. Off to explore your blog.

  6. This was such a beautiful post. Your children made such a difference for you, and you such a difference for them. I love how happily fate creates beautiful families like yours.

  7. Hello from one adoptive mom to another! Oh, and I’m also an adoptee myself. I didn’t realize it until now that I DID gain a whole other level of compassion while going through the adoptions of my children. Wow! What a revelation! Thank you for making the connection for me. Looking forward to following! You seem like my kind of people with all the wine and the cussing and what-not. (I read your About Me page).

  8. I think that’s my favorite thing so far…people realizing that they have made a difference in some small way, for one small person. In the end it’s really a huge thing. Thanks for sharing – looking forward to reading more here after the massive wave!

  9. That made my heart so full 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story of compassion. My step dad adopted me after he married my mom so that we were all legal because that was important to me as a kid. I have an amazing relationship with my birth father now which is based on a lot of mutual compassion. I’m so grateful he and I have been able to meet in the middle after all these years and just love each other.

  10. I think that an essential element in adoption, and parenting in general, has to be compassion. To pick up a small human being, and to be willing to put your heart and soul into their lives (’cause that’s what it takes) is the very heartbeat of compassion. I’ve been reading your posts for a while now, and the beautiful thing in your case is that your kids feel the compassion coming from you and are comforted by it. Yay!

  11. Jill I love the analogy with the Star Fish. One or one thousand, we can make a difference. I teach this to my children all the time. Just because it is one, doesn’t matter, it is the difference that you have had that matters.

    Yes having children gives you an understanding of patience and compassion. I love it 🙂

  12. I can’t find the original blog post (from the Washington Post) that led me to your site. I just know it’s one of the first ones I’ve posted on my Facebook page after just announcing there two days ago that I am in the final stages of adoption. I am 46 and single and often think about the “are you her grandmother” question often. I am so happy to have found someone in similar circumstances so I have been perusing all of your past posts (btw, wish there was a “search” function for the adoption ones, or a “previous” link). Thank you!

    1. I do need to put a search box on my blog! I’ve been having some work done on my site and that’s something I need to put back on. There’s a “blog archive” tab at the top of the page and you can peruse through some of the articles and find the adoption ones based on the title. If you click on the “Scary Mommy” button in my sidebar, you can find some adoption-related stuff, too. Congrats on your adoption! I hope you keep reading.

    2. I do need to put a search box on my blog! I’ve been having some work done on my site and that’s something I need to put back on. There’s a “blog archive” tab at the top of the page and you can peruse through some of the articles and find the adoption ones based on the title. If you click on the “Scary Mommy” button in my sidebar, you can find some adoption-related stuff, too. Congrats on your adoption! I hope you keep reading.

  13. What a compelling story. I have friends that have adopted. Some have adopted stateside and other internationally. All for various wonderful reasons. Enriching these children’s lives is a beautiful thing.

    Thank you for tossing your hat into the ring at the Party Under The Big Top! I hope to see you again next week!

  14. The starfish story is a common one for public school teachers. We may not be able to “save” them all, but we can absolutely make a difference for at least one each year.

    So glad adoption worked out for you! There are so many who struggle through the process for so many years. And the fact that you recognize not only what you offered children, but just how much you have gained from them. 🙂

  15. I have read the starfish story before and the little boys philosophy is one I have tried to live my life by! You defintely made a difference for not one but two and I applaud and respect you for doing so. Even if you think your motive was “selfish” I however don’t see it that way at all! You wanted a family and they just happened to need one! Such a touching post!

    We’re so glad you were able to make it over to the #BigTopBlogParty this week! Hope to see you again at the next Party Under the Big Top too!

    Wishing you a fabulous week!

    Much love,
    Lysa xx
    Welcome to My Circus

  16. Jill, it is not selfish to want to give the love you have in you. Only selfless person can write such a beautiful post, be honest and share it with the world! The starfish story brought tears to my eyes. I need that framed somewhere as to be reminded daily that yes, we can make a difference even with the smallest of steps. Thank you so much for sharing at Thursday Favorite Things

  17. I had never heard the starfish story before – I love it! I agree, my children have taught me more about compassionate tan anyone or anything in this life.

  18. Beautiful! Because compassion. We can all use a little bit more – I know I can. Thank you for the very sweet reminder. I love the story about the starfish. As Mother Teresa said, we may only be one drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be one drop less if not for us. Thank you!

  19. I totally relate to being a more compassionate person after adopting than before. It has made me a less judgmental person for sure. The Starfish story has always made me a bit uncomfortable in the past, but I really like the way you tied it into your post.